Family to challenge lack of GCSE in sign language

Legal action planned over government's decision to delay the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language

Hélène Mulholland

Daniel Jillings

A 12-year-old deaf boy is at the heart of a planned legal battle to challenge the government’s "discriminatory" decision to delay the introduction of a GCSE in British Sign Language (BSL).

Daniel Jillings, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, uses BSL as his first language and is concerned that there will be no qualification in place related to signing when he takes his exams in a few years’ time.

Currently, the government is offering only to "consider a proposal" after an unspecified “period of stability” for schools following recent GCSE reforms.  

But the family fears ministers are paying “lip service" to the issue.

The Jillings believe the lack of such a qualification, when there are GCSEs in foreign languages, could prove to be unlawful and are crowdfunding to launch a legal battle to argue their case.

Alex Rook, a partner and public law expert at Irwin Mitchell, which represents the family, said he intends to argue that a failure to have a GCSE in BSL breaches Daniel’s right to education, is discriminatory and is a breach of his rights under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008.

“The delay and ultimate failure to introduce a BSL qualification amounts to a breach of a number of legal duties and this issue requires urgent attention,” he said.

Mr Rook added: “It is simply not right that thousands of deaf children across the UK are unable to achieve a GCSE in their first language.”

'A huge impact on so many lives'

The family has already raised more than £4,000 towards the cost of taking the challenge forward.

BSL, which is used by around 70,000 deaf people in the UK, is rarely taught in schools at present. 

A survey conducted last year by the National Deaf Children’s Society found that the vast majority (97 per cent) of deaf and hearing young people thought that BSL should be taught at school. Almost as many (92 per cent) thought BSL should be offered as a GCSE. 

Ann Jillings, Daniel’s mother, said: “The introduction of a BSL GCSE could have a huge impact on so many lives and we simply believe that is far more important than the idea that schools need a ‘period of stability’.

“The government’s stance on the issue is denying deaf children across the country the same opportunities as other school pupils, and that simply cannot be right. Ministers have said the GCSE could be a possibility in the future but that at this point that just feels like lip service.

“We not only want reassurances that this will happen, but also some indication that action will be taken to address the matter once and for all. It feels like we have been left with no choice but to take this route and we would appreciate any support as we push on.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said:“We are not opposed to the introduction of a British Sign Language GCSE. We have already written to Signature advising them to begin discussions with Ofqual.

“Any new GCSE would need to meet the rigorous expectations for content, set by the Department for Education, and expectations for assessment and regulatory requirements set by Ofqual.”

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Hélène Mulholland

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